Charles O'Neill ( deceased )

Engineer, Known as ' God's Engineer '

Principal Co-founder of St. Vincent de Paul

‘God’s engineer’

He was an engineer and an MP but finished life as a pauper. This was Charles O’Neill (pictured), principal co-founder of the St Vincent de Paul Society in Australia and New Zealand, who may also, in time, become Australia’s second saint.

O’Neill’s amazing, intriguing life story will be told at a special presentation at Petersham RSL Club this coming Thursday, November 8 – which is the 101st anniversary of his impoverished death in Sydney.

The Sydney presentation, From Parliamentarian to Pauper, follows a similar one in Canberra, but promises further details of the life of the man who chose poverty as part of his life mission to the poor.

Dubbed “God’s engineer”, O’Neill was a Scottish engineer who emigrated first to New Zealand, where he was also for a time an MP.

He then moved to Australia where he championed the St Vincent de Paul Society. He pioneered the parish-based Society Conferences, as well as a number of successful fundraising methods.

In the third part of the three-part presentation, The Puzzle of the Pauper’s End, Professor Tony Kelly will speak about Charles O’Neill’s inner spirituality in the context of the growing social crisis in NSW and the colonies at the time, the 1890s, and the Society founder’s response, which included establishing a slum ministry.

The Society and the Australian Catholic University have been vigorously researching Charles O’Neill’s life.

“Historians have pointed to his energy and effort as the main reason why the Society of St Vincent de Paul was finally consolidated in Australia,” said Prof Kelly. “Yet Charles himself remains an enigma.”

The presentation pulls together the bits and pieces the Society and the ACU have discovered about this most enigmatic man into an impressive whole. And, says the Society, it promises to be quite enthralling.